Tag Archives | Kate DiCamillo

Catherine Urdahl

Catherine Urdahl's Self on the Shelf selections

As a child, I was shy and scared — of oth­er kids, dogs, almost any­thing out­side my fence. My par­ents enrolled me in preschool, hop­ing I’d blos­som. I refused to get out of the car. I had every­thing I need­ed at home, includ­ing a mom who loved read­ing to me. My first book mem­o­ry is Three Bed­time Sto­ries: The Three Lit­tle Kit­tens, The Three Lit­tle Pigs, The Three Bears, illus­trat­ed by Garth Williams. Even today, when I page through this book, I’m scrunched up on my child­hood couch with my mom and my sis­ters. It’s emo­tion­al time trav­el to my warmest mem­o­ries — despite lines like: Then the big bad wolf huffed and he puffed, and he blew the house in. He ate up the fat lit­tle pig. And that was the end of the first lit­tle pig. For some rea­son, that didn’t scare me.

As you’d imag­ine, I had a rocky start in school. But I loved the library. I’d hide in a cor­ner with a book, and every­thing else would fade. Once, I didn’t notice my class had lined up and left. I was with my “safe” friends — the char­ac­ters in my favorite books. I loved the Frances series by Rus­sell Hoban, illus­trat­ed by Lil­lian Hoban. Frances wasn’t afraid to speak up, she made up the best rhymes, and she found sly ways to delay bed­time. In a strange way, Bed­time for Frances was my first expe­ri­ence of the inter­sec­tion of grief and laugh­ter. My mom read us the book one sum­mer night, when we were liv­ing in a camper by a lake. Lat­er that night, my grand­pa sud­den­ly died. The next morn­ing, on the dri­ve to my grand­par­ents’ farm, one of my sis­ters and I replayed our favorite lines from the book:

There is a tiger in my room,” said Frances.
“Did he bite you?” said Father.
“No,” said Frances.
“Did he scratch you?” said Moth­er.
“No,” said Frances.
“Then he is a friend­ly tiger,” said Father.

Hilar­i­ous! Did the par­ents real­ly believe there was a tiger in the room? In the mid­dle of the sad­ness my sis­ter and I got the gig­gles. It felt wrong — but also so good.

Frances also showed me girl-pow­er. In Best Friends for Frances, when Albert says his ball game is a “no-girls game,” Frances cre­ates a no-boys pic­nic to teach him a les­son. Of course, Albert begs to join in. 

Well, I’m not sure,” said Frances. “Maybe you’ll be best friends when it is good­ies-in-the-ham­per time, but how about when it is no-girls-base­ball time?”

Frances was no pushover.

While Frances was aspi­ra­tional, Bet­sy (from Car­olyn Haywood’s Bet­sy series) was a kin­dred spir­it. This line from B is for Bet­sy expressed my feel­ings exactly:

She thought of Moth­er who was get­ting far­ther and far­ther away every moment. “If I got up now and ran out the door,” thought Bet­sy. “I could catch Moth­er. I could be out in the sun­shine again with Moth­er and take hold of her hand. I could tell Moth­er that I don’t want to go to school, that I know it is a ter­ri­ble place…

There! I wasn’t the only one! Of course, Bet­sy learns to like school in the first few chap­ters. It took me much longer; still, the book gave me hope.

Giv­en my timid­i­ty, I often need­ed lit­tle pep talks. For this, I had The Lit­tle Engine that Could by Wat­ty Piper, illus­trat­ed by George and Doris Hau­man. I loved the hes­i­tant but ulti­mate­ly deter­mined Lit­tle Blue Engine (and she was my favorite col­or!) My heart beat a lit­tle faster as the tiny engine tugged and pulled and pulled and tugged, and I chant­ed along as she puffed I think I can — I think I can — I think I can… Of all my child­hood books, this is the most worn. Appar­ent­ly, I need­ed it often.

SamAnoth­er child­hood favorite was Sam by Ann Her­bert Scott, illus­trat­ed by Syme­on Shimin. I loved the soft illus­tra­tions and the expres­sive face of main char­ac­ter Sam, who goes from room to room ask­ing his par­ents and old­er sib­lings to play. Sam gets sad­der and sad­der as every­one push­es him away. Final­ly, he drops to the floor, cry­ing. The whole fam­i­ly gath­ers around, com­fort­ing and encour­ag­ing him as he rolls out dough for a tart.

Say, that’s a good job for Sam,” said his father.

He’s not too lit­tle,” said his sister.

And he’s not too big,” said his brother.

It’s a book about a typ­i­cal, lov­ing fam­i­ly (albeit with the tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles of its time). But it was one of the few books I’d seen with char­ac­ters of col­or. Here was a fam­i­ly of real, imper­fect peo­ple who loved each oth­er deeply, a lot like mine. This book felt impor­tant. And it was. 

I also was drawn to books about orphans. My favorite (even more than The Box­car Chil­dren) was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. It starts with my worst night­mare — los­ing both my parents.

Then, one day, James’s moth­er and father went to Lon­don to do some shop­ping, and there a ter­ri­ble thing hap­pened. Both of them sud­den­ly got eat­en up (in full day­light, mind you, and on a crowd­ed street) by an enor­mous angry rhi­noc­er­os which had escaped from the Lon­don Zoo…

Luck­i­ly, my par­ents nev­er went to Lon­don. Plus, James’ evil guardians Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spik­er are as hilar­i­ous as they are scary. My favorite child­hood poem comes from them:

I look and smell,” Aunt Sponge declared, “as love­ly as a rose!
Just feast your eyes upon my face, observe my
shape­ly nose!
Behold my heav­en­ly silky locks!
And if I take off both my socks
You’ll see my dain­ty toes.”
“But don’t for­get,” Aunt Spik­er cried, “how much
your tum­my shows!”

The worst thing in the world hap­pens to James. But he pre­vails. He climbs into the giant peach; dis­cov­ers a bunch of over­sized, talk­ing insects; and they all roll off on a grand adven­ture, crush­ing the two aunts as flat and thin and life­less as a cou­ple of paper dolls cut out of a pic­ture book. Dark, but so satisfying.

I hes­i­tate to include the next book because it’s in a whole dif­fer­ent cat­e­go­ry (though it, too, con­tains both dark­ness and light, tragedy, inspi­ra­tion, and even girl-pow­er.) I remem­ber the first time I read the Holy Bible on my own. I was 12 years old, flopped on my grandma’s bed, look­ing for some­thing to do. I’d chal­lenge myself — see how much I could read! I don’t remem­ber what I read. I just remem­ber feel­ing proud.

I still read the Bible—though not as fast. I don’t always get it. I puz­zle over the seem­ing con­tra­dic­tions, won­der about the his­tor­i­cal con­text, hold onto the parts that speak to me and chal­lenge me the most. Like this one:

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act just­ly and to love mer­cy
And to walk humbly with your God.

My favorite books — the ones I read as a child and the ones I’m read­ing now — are part of me. They inspire and inform my writ­ing — the per­fect start to Because of Winn Dix­ie by the mas­ter­ful Kate DiCamil­lo. They make me cry — the scene in Send For Me by Lau­ren Fox, where the grand­moth­er clings to her 2‑year-old grand­daugh­ter who is flee­ing WWII Ger­many with her par­ents. They make me laugh — the entire cast of quirky char­ac­ters from Fredrik Backman’s Anx­ious People.

And all of them — the many books over the many years — make me think and make me feel. For that, I am grateful.


Tracy Sue Walker

This month we wel­come Tra­cy Sue Walk­er, author, pub­lic librar­i­an, and pro­fes­sion­al storyteller.

She’s recent­ly been reveal­ing “the truth about” a series of mys­ti­cal crea­tures, so far includ­ing drag­ons, Big­foot, and uni­corns, for Scholas­tic Book Clubs.

Tra­cy describes her­self this way, “A booklover, day­dream­er, and goof­ball, I’m pret­ty qui­et unless I’m telling a sto­ry, then I’m pret­ty loud.” Let’s see how she answered our Skin­ny Dip questions.

Tra­cy Sue Walker

One green thing I wish every­one would do: 

Turn the lights off when leav­ing a room. It helps, and it’s so easy — the flick of a switch.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamilloThe book I wish every­one would read: 

The Tale of Des­pereaux by Kate DiCamillo

What keeps me up at night: 

Every­thing — a nat­ur­al-born wor­ri­er, I am!

One thing no one can do bet­ter than I can: 

Wor­ry! (Please see num­ber 3) 😊

One habit I keep try­ing to break: 

Chew­ing on my pen­cils. There’s some­thing so sat­is­fy­ing about sink­ing my teeth into a good Ticon­dero­ga yel­low no.  1 extra soft lead pen­cil.  All my pen­cils have teeth marks, sadly…

If I could say one thing to my twen­ty-years-younger self, it would be: 

It’s not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.  And don’t for­get to breathe once in a while.

What’s on my nightstand: 

Books! All in var­i­ous stages of being read.

My hero is: 

Any­one who helps improve a child’s life. Whether it’s intro­duc­ing them to good books, pro­vid­ing relief for food inse­cu­ri­ty, or sim­ply being there to lis­ten — heroes!

I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self: 

Start jour­nal­ing! Write down thoughts, feel­ings, wor­ries, observations…

Misery by Stephen KingThe scari­est book I’ve ever read: 

Mis­ery by Stephen King

I yearn to: 

Trav­el and see more of the world — espe­cial­ly places of nat­ur­al wonder.

The food I can’t resist: 

Olives! Salty, briny bites of heaven!


Elizabeth Verdick

Elizabeth Verdick Self on the Shelf

When I pic­ture myself as a kid, I think of my bed­room in our split-lev­el West Vir­ginia house, a room I loved but had to leave behind at age eleven when my fam­i­ly moved to Mary­land. For years, that room was my own lit­tle world, my book nook, my place to cud­dle my cat Rag, col­lect chi­na-cat fig­urines, and, yes, read books about cats. Was I feline-obsessed? Yes! But I won’t bore you with the list of cat-ori­ent­ed fic­tion and non­fic­tion I con­sumed as a child. You might be a dog lover after all. My read­ing taste also includ­ed some of the nov­els that plen­ty of girls grow­ing up in the sev­en­ties loved: the Nan­cy Drew mys­ter­ies, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrin­kle in Time, and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Mar­garet. I also adored books about pigs, and for years, I imag­ined that some­day on one of my family’s many vis­its to farms and pet­ting zoos, a real-life pig would final­ly talk to me, con­firm­ing my belief that pigs are not only smart but also mag­i­cal, and good con­ver­sa­tion­al­ists, too. That lit­tle bed­room was a riot of col­or: avo­ca­do-green shag car­pet­ing, a bright patch­work quilt, yel­low fur­ni­ture, stuffed ani­mals in all shades and states of dress (over­alls, tiny skirts, fun­ny hats). It was the place where I could most be myself.

Experts say that around the time of puber­ty, most girls expe­ri­ence a nose­dive in con­fi­dence — a cri­sis that par­ents and edu­ca­tors have for years tried to address. At age eleven, I couldn’t have put into words how or why my once-fiery self was dimin­ish­ing week by week, and for years lat­er. The tran­si­tion from child into teen is intense and often painful, a time when you still believe in talk­ing ani­mals and por­tals to oth­er worlds yet must face the ways in which your body and self-image are chang­ing day by day. I read and reread books that seemed to hold the answers — or a sense of “I see you.” Like me, Mar­garet Mur­ry (in A Wrin­kle in Time) wres­tled with her frizzy hair and teas­ing peers. Like me, anoth­er Mar­garet (this time in a Judy Blume book) was wor­ried about her family’s move, not to men­tion bras, boys, and B.O. And there was Har­ri­et, the young “spy” who exu­ber­ant­ly con­fessed her feel­ings in her note­book: “I FEEL THERE’S A FUNNY LITTLE HOLE IN ME THAT WASN’T THERE BEFORE, LIKE A SPLINTER IN YOUR FINGER, BUT THIS IS SOMEWHERE ABOVE MY STOMACH” (Har­ri­et the Spy, p.132). I knew that emp­ty feel­ing. Read­ing helped fill it.

These pro­tag­o­nists were life­lines when I want­ed to hide or cry, laugh and scream at the same time, or just play pre­tend like a lit­tle kid. When you’re not quite a child any­more but you’re not offi­cial­ly a teen, you still feel that urge to become a char­ac­ter you’re read­ing about: I bought a com­po­si­tion note­book like Harriet’s and spied beneath the neigh­bors’ win­dows; I wore bor­rowed eye­glass­es to cre­ate my Mar­garet Mur­ry per­sona; and I decid­ed to start pray­ing (“Are you there God? It’s me, Eliz­a­beth”). Some­times I’d pre­tend to be Nan­cy Drew, brave and wise beyond her years. Oth­er times I was Fern from Charlotte’s Web, wheel­ing dolls and my oblig­ing cat in a baby car­riage, call­ing him “Wilbur.” That in-between stage is lone­ly and con­fus­ing, watch­ing your peers play Spin the Bot­tle when you’d rather be home play­ing Bar­bie ER (it involved crash­ing her Coun­try Camper). Books don’t judge you — they under­stand. They offer up heroes and add col­or and mag­ic to every­day life.

I often felt dif­fer­ent from peo­ple my age, in that I held on to child­hood for so long. Through­out high school, I returned to pic­ture books and my time­worn Judy Blume nov­els, even though I was also read­ing Stephen King. I’d pull out my Nan­cy Drew books, lin­ing them up to choose the best cov­er or make my room resem­ble a library. When feel­ing espe­cial­ly nos­tal­gic, I’d dig out Fred­dy the Detec­tive, a 1932 nov­el by Wal­ter R. Brooks about an adven­tur­ous, can-do pig, and ask my dad to read aloud. I want­ed to pub­lish sto­ries myself some­day, but when I lat­er sub­mit­ted work to my college’s lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, I was told the pieces skewed “too young” and would only appeal to kids.

What I didn’t know then was that there was a whole world of peo­ple who loved work that cen­tered on chil­dren and teens. When I moved to St. Paul after col­lege, I got a job as a book­seller at the Red Bal­loon Book­shop, where walk­ing in the front door felt like com­ing home. Walls of kids’ books! Rows of stuffed-ani­mal lit­er­ary char­ac­ters! A vis­it from the Madeleine L’Engle! There, I didn’t have to be more “adult” than I want­ed to be. Maybe those past days of por­ing over book cov­ers in my bed­room had done more than sim­ply sat­is­fy my curios­i­ty or cre­ate a sense of calm. I’d been devel­op­ing a respect for sto­ry­tellers and illus­tra­tors — per­haps even gain­ing that first lit­tle bit of what Ira Glass of This Amer­i­can Life describes as “taste,” or your impulse to do cre­ative work. I even­tu­al­ly found a job in book pub­lish­ing, where I learned to edit man­u­scripts and help design book inte­ri­ors. I took a class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta taught by Karen Nel­son Hoyle, who had stu­dents read The River­side Anthol­o­gy of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, which exam­ines the impor­tance of folk­tales, poet­ry, pic­ture books, and nov­els writ­ten for young peo­ple. I was still a begin­ner, and as Glass explains (wish­ing some­one had told him when he was a begin­ner): “All of us who do cre­ative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first cou­ple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s try­ing to be good, it has poten­tial, but it’s not … A lot of peo­ple nev­er get past this phase, they quit.” I often gave up, shred­ding my own sto­ries before any­one could see them. But dur­ing that time, I helped oth­er writ­ers find their voic­es and bring their books into the world, a role I cherished. 

Some­thing changed, deep­ened, when I had kids of my own. That call to children’s lit­er­a­ture grew even stronger. I took writ­ing class­es at the Loft Lit­er­ary Cen­ter in Min­neapo­lis, and I even­tu­al­ly got an MFA in writ­ing for chil­dren and teens from Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Paul. Along the way, I learned from authors whose books elicit­ed the feel­ings of yearn­ing I’d had at age eleven — Min­neso­ta writ­ers like Anne Ursu and Kate DiCamil­lo. I stud­ied new and clas­sic pic­ture books, and I longed to write in that short (yet decep­tive­ly com­plex) form. I hoped to some­day feel as con­fi­dent as Har­ri­et M. Welsch, intre­pid girl spy and jour­nal-keep­er, who used writ­ing to under­stand the world and her­self. That was pie-in-the-sky think­ing. Today, any time I start a new man­u­script, my con­fi­dence plum­mets and I feel like a begin­ner again. But guess what? Most writ­ers do! Ira Glass says, “It’s nor­mal to take awhile. You’ve just got­ta fight your way through.”

 When you read a word-per­fect pic­ture book or a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten nov­el, it’s easy to think the book popped into the world like “Presto!” because you feel the mag­ic as you turn the pages. But writ­ers, illus­tra­tors, and edi­tors know how much behind-the-scenes work it takes to cre­ate that illu­sion. If you’re curi­ous about “book-mag­ic,” you might want to read Ways of Telling: Con­ver­sa­tions on the Art of the Pic­ture Book by Leonard S. Mar­cus, and one of Marcus’s oth­er works, Dear Genius: The Let­ters of Ursu­la Nord­strom, who was the direc­tor of Harper’s Depart­ment of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973 (and edi­tor of clas­sics such as Charlotte’s Web, Good­night Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are). It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to learn about Nordstrom’s cor­re­spon­dence with E. B. White and illus­tra­tor Garth Williams, who worked togeth­er on Charlotte’s Web. (Should Williams draw Charlotte’s eight eyes? Should her mouth be vis­i­ble?) In Ways of Telling, author/illustrator Eric Car­le reveals that he had cre­at­ed a man­u­script called “A Week with Willi Worm!” that, after advice from his edi­tor, trans­formed into The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar. Books, like but­ter­flies, emerge only after a messy process of meta­mor­pho­sis. And that’s fit­ting because, after all, we’re talk­ing about works for chil­dren, who in the words of E. B. White, “… are the most atten­tive, curi­ous, eager, obser­vant, sen­si­tive, quick, and gen­er­al­ly con­ge­nial read­ers on earth.” It’s an hon­or to write for them. 

I’m far from eleven, but I’m still obsessed with cats (dogs too). I’m still wait­ing for the day a pig might talk to me. And books are still my best friends. Some things nev­er change.


Read-Alouds That Leave a Lasting Imprint

The gift of a favorite teacher read­ing aloud an unfor­get­table book is an expe­ri­ence like­ly to leave a last­ing imprint on a student’s heart. For me, it was Ramona the Pest, intro­duced by my sec­ond-grade teacher. I’ll always remem­ber Tam­my Burns, the girl in my class who had beau­ti­ful ringlets just like Ramona’s class­mate Susan. And just like Ramona, I was always tempt­ed to give those curls a good tug to see if they would go “boing.” I was enchant­ed by Ramona, and want­ed to be just as feisty and bold. She quick­ly became my first “best book friend” and her clas­sic series would make me the vora­cious read­er I am today.

Dur­ing my three decades as a teacher, I have savored many chap­ter book read-alouds with my stu­dents in upper ele­men­tary class­rooms. And like teach­ers every­where, it is my great­est wish to make a last­ing impact on stu­dents. I believe shar­ing the very best of mid­dle grade lit­er­a­ture is a sure-fire approach to achiev­ing this goal. The gems on my list of must-have titles pos­sess tremen­dous poten­tial for enter­ing and remain­ing in the hearts of teach­ers and stu­dents alike.

Sahara Special  

Sahara Spe­cial
writ­ten by Esme Raji Codell 
Dis­ney-Hype­r­i­on, 2004

Puz­zling, Time Trav­el and World Explor­ing, Mad Sci­ence, Read Aloud, Read Togeth­er, Read Alone, Art of Lan­guage. Not your typ­i­cal 5th grade dai­ly sched­ule, but it is what Sahara gets with Madame Poiti­er, aka, Miss Pointy. Labeled as an under­achiev­er who actu­al­ly has seri­ous writ­ing tal­ent that she keeps hid­den, Sahara has opt­ed out of spe­cial edu­ca­tion class­es and is instead repeat­ing 5th grade. With help from her eccen­tric teacher, she final­ly finds the kind of sup­port and encour­age­ment that might help her over­come her fears, accept her­self and embrace her gifts. Share this book to build empa­thy and bring humor to your read aloud.


Home of the Brave  

Home of the Brave
writ­ten by Kather­ine Applegate
Square Fish, 2008

A beau­ti­ful sto­ry of one boy’s strug­gle to adapt to a new life in Min­neso­ta. Far from his home­land of Sudan and the school expe­ri­ence he had at a refugee camp, this exquis­ite book is a per­fect choice to pro­mote win­dows and mir­rors with stu­dents. Writ­ten in free verse, read­ers will be drawn to Kek and his desire to adapt to the frigid Min­neso­ta win­ter and life in Amer­i­ca. He is deter­mined to learn of his mother’s fate as he remains hope­ful despite his old­er brother’s pes­simism. Applegate’s descrip­tive writ­ing, rich with idioms, brings atten­tion to what it’s like to try to make sense of a new sur­round­ing and strange lan­guage. Share this book to raise aware­ness of and appre­ci­a­tion for the refugee expe­ri­ence, mak­ing new friends and hang­ing onto hope when you have lit­tle else.


Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane  

The Mirac­u­lous Jour­ney of Edward Tulane
writ­ten by Kate DiCamillo
Can­dlewick Press, 2006

This fan­tas­ti­cal adven­ture fea­tures a stuck up, ego­cen­tric chi­na rab­bit who is trans­formed through repeat­ed episodes of loss and love as his sto­ry spans decades. Although at first meet­ing, he is a heart­less char­ac­ter, Edward’s jour­ney is about recap­tur­ing his humil­i­ty and dis­cov­er­ing the true pow­er of love. It all begins with a fall over­board and con­tin­ues through a series of res­cues and aban­don­ments. Edward and his read­ers will face a wide range of emo­tions as the tale unfolds across unex­pect­ed set­tings with a unique ensem­ble of sup­port­ing cast mem­bers. Share this sto­ry to explore mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives and oppor­tu­ni­ties for engag­ing in char­ac­ter analysis. 


The War That Saved My Life


The War That Saved My Life
writ­ten by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
Dial Books, 2015

Win­ner of numer­ous awards, includ­ing a New­bery Hon­or, this unfor­get­table WWII saga tells the sto­ry of Ada, a bright but severe­ly neglect­ed nine-year-old girl, liv­ing in Lon­don. Born with a club foot and unable to walk due to lack of treat­ment, Ada has been locked in her cru­el mother’s shab­by sec­ond sto­ry flat her entire life. When the city’s chil­dren are evac­u­at­ed to the coun­try­side as Hitler’s bombs begin to fall, Ada fol­lows her younger broth­er and grasps her only chance to escape her dis­mal exis­tence. TWTSML is the kind of read aloud that cap­tures the lis­ten­er and holds on tight. Share this his­tor­i­cal fic­tion title to offer stu­dents com­pelling insight into the lives, strug­gles and hard-won vic­to­ries of two resilient chil­dren and the woman who res­cues them.


Out of My Mind  

Out of My Mind
writ­ten by Sharon Draper
Run­ning Press Kids, 2010

Fifth grade, spelling extra­or­di­naire Melody pos­sess­es a pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry and is like­ly the bright­est stu­dent in the entire school. She is fun­ny, feisty and fierce. Yet no one knows any of these things about her because she is trapped and unable to demon­strate any of her tal­ents or traits. Born with cere­bral pal­sy, Melody yearns for the abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate and expe­ri­ence friend­ships like oth­er kids her age. The arrival of “Elvi­ra” trans­forms Melody’s life and the world around her. Share this book to delve into the dif­fi­cult yet nec­es­sary top­ic of bias towards oth­ers who are differently-abled.


The One and Only Ivan  

The One and Only Ivan
writ­ten by Kather­ine Applegate
Harper­Collins, 2012

The poignant, inspired by true events, sto­ry of the shop­ping mall goril­la, Ivan. A beau­ti­ful blend of friend­ship and faith, art and humor, is sprin­kled through­out the pages of this endear­ing tale. A favorite New­bery Medal win­ner, Ivan has found a home in the hearts of read­ers in thou­sands of class­rooms. A gen­tle giant, Ivan learns about the essence of life from inside his glass walls dur­ing his 27 years of cap­tiv­i­ty. He finds strength, courage and love among his small but mighty group of mall friends; Julia, the mall custodian’s daugh­ter, Bob, the spir­it­ed dog, Stel­la, the wise, old­er ele­phant and Ruby, the new­ly arrived baby ele­phant. Share this book to inte­grate fan­ta­sy fic­tion and non-fic­tion accounts of the incred­i­ble sto­ry of Ivan, encour­ag­ing research and ani­mal rights advocacy.


A Long Walk to Water  

A Long Walk to Water 
writ­ten by Lin­da Sue Park
Clar­i­on Books, 2010

Anoth­er book based on a true sto­ry, this heart-rend­ing sto­ry of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” presents the par­al­lel sto­ries of two unfor­get­table chil­dren. Alter­nat­ing the third per­son nar­ra­tives, Park shares the dif­fi­cult sto­ries of Sal­va, a Din­ka boy escap­ing the hor­rors of the Sudanese civ­il war in 1985 and that of Nya, a mem­ber of the Nuer tribe, who devotes the major­i­ty of her time to retriev­ing water for her fam­i­ly in 2008. While both trag­ic and uplift­ing, share this book to raise aware­ness of the strug­gle for sur­vival due to war and lack of basic nat­ur­al resources such as water. 


Hello, Universe  

Hel­lo, Universe
writ­ten by Erin Entra­da Kelly
Green­wil­low Books, 2017

Hel­lo Uni­verse by Erin Entra­da Kelly

The 2018 win­ner of the New­bery Award, this enchant­i­ng sto­ry is sure to become an all-time favorite. The sto­ry of sur­vival in both small and very big ways is woven togeth­er from the very dif­fer­ent life expe­ri­ences of four mis­fits – a bul­ly, a psy­chic, a deaf girl and a shy but kind boy. The uni­verse works in mys­te­ri­ous and some­times epic ways as this charm­ing tale of friend­ship and courage will attest. Share this book to launch a unit about fam­i­ly sto­ries, under­stand­ing and stand­ing up to bul­ly­ing, how var­i­ous cul­tures are rep­re­sent­ed in lit­er­a­ture or the idea of fate ver­sus free will.


Ms. Bixby's Last Day  

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
writ­ten by John David Anderson
Walden Pond Press, 2016

Three sixth grade boys with noth­ing much in com­mon oth­er than a shared out­cast sta­tus and an affin­i­ty for their beloved Mrs. B, hatch a plan to deliv­er “the per­fect last day”.  As teach­ers go, Ms. Bix­by is “one of the good ones”, a teacher who under­stands the impor­tance of rela­tion­ships, respect and rec­og­niz­ing spe­cial qual­i­ties in each and every stu­dent. When she sud­den­ly takes a med­ical leave to deal with a seri­ous ill­ness, the boys embark on a com­i­cal and at times heart­break­ing quest to see her at least one more time.  Filled with a per­fect mix of hard truths and much need­ed humor, this adven­ture will keep lis­ten­ers beg­ging for just one more page. Share this book as a per­fect end-of-the-year selec­tion that leads to an emo­tion­al and mem­o­rable conclusion!




Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es par­tic­i­pa­tion — but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve intro­duced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of pub­li­ca­tion. (Dar­ling Daugh­ter is, alas, out­grow­ing the mid­dle-grade genre.)

We saved the read­ing of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightin­gale for Books & Bagels. I sched­uled it not hav­ing read the book, in fact, which is not usu­al­ly how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend them­selves to good dis­cus­sion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heart­break and the hope, the crazy char­ac­ters and their friend­ships and flaws, and the unlike­ly events that could absolute­ly hap­pen. We talked about how it was sim­i­lar to some of DiCamillo’s oth­er books and how it was dif­fer­ent, too. Good dis­cus­sion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, how­ev­er, that one of our reg­u­lars — I’ll call him Sam — seemed a bit dis­grun­tled about the book. Sam and I have been dis­cussing books for a long time — he reads both wise­ly and wide­ly and we have intro­duced each oth­er to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s hon­est about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but nev­er in a way that would hurt some­one else’s feel­ings — includ­ing, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have some­thing you want to say.”

Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-writ­ten, of course. And, I mean, the friend­ship of Raymie and those oth­er girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were inter­est­ing…. But — ” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the cor­ner of his eye.

Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you real­ly think.”

It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at hav­ing con­fessed this. “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gen­tle clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions. I’m sort of fas­ci­nat­ed and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehe­ment­ly argue that those cat­e­gories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or some­thing like that. But before me was a read­er insist­ing that he under­stood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be inter­est­ing to guys like him.

Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl read­ers asked.

Batons. Bar­rettes. Dress­es.” Sam said. He shrugged apologetically.

Oth­er kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff what­so­ev­er, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was miss­ing. Instead, we talked about whether var­i­ous (tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood) girl and boy trap­pings were lim­it­ed or lim­it­ing. These kids know how to have good and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions around per­cep­tions and assump­tions and stereo­types. We talked about whether the char­ac­ter of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, every­one agreed — they knew boys who were painful­ly shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stub­born, just like each of the three ami­gos DiCamil­lo con­jured up. They knew both boys and girls who car­ried heavy loads of expec­ta­tion, or fam­i­ly dis­tress, or who had trou­ble mak­ing friends. They knew them­selves what it was to feel like every­thing, absolute­ly every­thing, depend­ed on them. They could iden­ti­fy with the book — on many lev­els that had noth­ing to do with gen­der. And yet…this was a girlie book — on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion, real­ly. Hon­est. Respect­ful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He won­dered if Kate DiCamil­lo made Raymie, Bev­er­ly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also writ­ten books that fea­tured male char­ac­ters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Ris­ing with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detri­tus I asked if any­one could sug­gest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels book­group. Sam eager­ly bounced up and down.

I have two to sug­gest!” he said. “Bridge to Ter­abithia and The BFG.”

Two ter­rif­ic books. Two ter­rif­ic books that hap­pen to have strong girl char­ac­ters. I point­ed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl char­ac­ters. The giant is a boy!”


Bink and Gollie

Ear­ly this morn­ing I read Bink and Gol­lie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their par­ents picked up the rental car for their Great Amer­i­can Sum­mer Road­trip. To say that the lev­el of excite­ment was pal­pa­ble is an under­state­ment — it was a wave that near­ly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked — both of them — non­stop for an hour while we sipped our break­fast smoothies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smooth­ie, which was con­cern­ing, so anx­ious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

Books!” said one.

YEAH — WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the other.

On the deck!”

In the sunshine!”

Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gol­lie with us to the sun­ny deck. No mat­ter how excit­ed these sweet girls get — and let me tell you, they were excit­ed this morn­ing! — they calm down instant­ly with a book. Their breath­ing changes by page two. And so we snug­gled up and read, breath­ing deeply in the ear­ly morn­ing sunshine.

I’d for­got­ten how much of the sto­ry is told in the pic­tures in Bink and Gol­lie books — and how many words are in the pic­tures. Labels and instruc­tions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learn­ing to read, this works real­ly well. I read the sto­ry itself and they read the pic­tures. The pic­tures are often filled with big words. (So is the sto­ry itself — it’s some­thing I appre­ci­ate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Ali­son McGhee’s writ­ing. They do not sim­pli­fy vocab­u­lary.) Some things we have to sound out togeth­er, but the real fun is get­ting the inflec­tion right. Read­ing it in our Gol­lie voice, or like a 1940’s radio adver­tise­ment, or like a car­ni­val barker.

Bink and Gol­lie are oppo­sites in many ways — Gol­lie is tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­icBink&Gollie-180-pix and for­mal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greet­ings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amus­ing. They are also tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­ic (some­times, any­way), and hilar­i­ous­ly for­mal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair stick­ing up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pan­cakes and peanut but­ter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that prob­lem,” one of them said this morn­ing as we read about Bink order­ing a Stretch-o-mat­ic to make her­self taller.) But their hair is some­times Bink-like. And they delight in the sim­ple things of life — includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, socks, cel­e­bra­to­ry pan­cakes, and peanut but­ter. They also have Bink’s ener­gy — they yam­mer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gol­lie. They are Bink and Gol­lie — they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gol­lie have adven­tures, a sweet friend­ship, and they roller­skate every­where — these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decod­ing the words in the pic­tures and get­ting the joke. They are envi­ous of the tree­house in which Bink and Gol­lie live. They’d like to vis­it Eccles’ Empire of Enchant­ment — and maybe hit a Bar­gain Bonan­za. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dako­ta will sat­is­fy them.)

Bink and Gol­lie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a lit­tle field trip to my house (just around the cor­ner) because their cousin was bak­ing scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rent­ed Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I won­der if they’re lev­i­tat­ing with excite­ment in their car seats, chat­ter­ing away like Bink or say­ing I long for the moun­tains…. like Gol­lie. They invit­ed me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve tak­en them up on it.


Creating a Curriculum and Culture of Kindness in the Classroom

bk_wonder_140by Mau­r­na Rome

When giv­en the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” ― R.J. Pala­cio, Won­der

Wouldn’t our class­rooms be grand if stu­dents were giv­en oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn about and expe­ri­ence what being kind looks like, sounds like and feels like on a dai­ly basis? Wouldn’t life be grand if we could all sim­ply choose true col­lab­o­ra­tion with our teach­ing col­leagues to pro­mote kind­ness? Wouldn’t our schools be grand if our dis­tricts would invest in kind­ness? My answer is a resound­ing “YES!” to these ques­tions, and I hope oth­er teach­ers would agree on all counts.

True, we are faced with con­stant pres­sure to pre­pare stu­dents for “those tests.” You know, the ones that are used to deter­mine just how accom­plished we teach­ers and our stu­dents are. Many of us still feel the urge to just close the door and do what we do in iso­la­tion. And yes, in many dis­tricts, sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing is being used to buy new and com­pre­hen­sive “core” read­ing pro­grams (remem­ber those test scores). Yet what about the con­tent of our stu­dents’ char­ac­ter? What about their cur­rent lev­el of engage­ment and future hap­pi­ness? Could the answer be the pur­suit of kind­ness and uti­liz­ing authen­tic lit­er­a­ture in our class­rooms? Do books real­ly have the pow­er to change lives? Again, my answer is a resound­ing “YES!”

from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Thought Bub­ble on Kindness”

Despite the chal­lenges, my incred­i­ble col­leagues and I have sought out an inten­tion­al approach to weave kind­ness into our teach­ing. As “human­i­ties” teach­ers, it seems only fit­ting that along with lessons on parts of speech, com­pre­hen­sion strate­gies and writ­ing lit­er­ary essays, we include a com­mit­ment to teach­ing kind­ness. It is after all, an inte­gral aspect of belong­ing to this thing we call humankind.

Smart teach­ers know there is a sense of urgency in our class­rooms. Time is always in short sup­ply while meet­ings, les­son plan­ning, paper cor­rect­ing, and grad­ing are a con­stant demand. It helps to have a team like the one I work with. The strong lev­els of trust, mutu­al respect and shared enthu­si­asm for what we do is invig­o­rat­ing. We encour­age each oth­er to want to be the best teach­ers we can be. We con­tin­u­al­ly brain­storm, test, suc­ceed, fail, and try again, as we share our ideas, resources and instruc­tion­al strate­gies with one anoth­er. This is a recipe for pro­fes­sion­al kind­ness that works. If you want to teach kind­ness in your class­room, it is much eas­i­er if you have cama­raderie among your colleagues.


Glob­al Read Aloud (aka Glow Ball Read Dahl Loud) day. Click to enlarge.

And kids seem to notice when their teach­ers love what they do. On Novem­ber 13th, class­rooms near and far par­tic­i­pat­ed in two simul­ta­ne­ous events: World Kind­ness Day and Glob­al Read Aloud (aka Glow Ball Read Dahl Loud). My team­mates and I wore our glow sticks and ball gowns, while read­ing poet­ry by Roald Dahl (loud­ly). We also shared the short film, Snack Attack, to pro­mote a mes­sage of kind­ness and gen­er­ate lots of dis­cus­sion. Our unusu­al attire and this award-win­ning movie with a twist were excel­lent ways to rein­force the con­cept of “Con­trasts and Con­tra­dic­tions” a sign­post from Notice and Note; Strate­gies for Close Read­ing by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. 

It’s up to us teach­ers to work our mag­ic to carve out the time, to cre­ate an inte­grat­ed cur­ricu­lum and cul­ture of kind­ness. Kids who learn the impor­tance of kind­ness are kids who devel­op empa­thy and com­pas­sion. They are more apt to be selfless in a world where “self­ies” rule. Con­sid­er these “Words of the Wis­er” (anoth­er Notice and Note signpost):

I think prob­a­bly kind­ness is my num­ber one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or brav­ery or gen­eros­i­ty or any­thing else. Kind­ness — that sim­ple word. To be kind — it cov­ers every­thing, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”  ―Roald Dahl

The fol­low­ing kind­ness resources have been field-test­ed and have earned a sol­id stamp of approval from dozens of wise (and kind) 6 – 11 year olds.


 Children’s Pic­ture Books:

  • Each Kind­ness by Jacque­line Woodson
  • Have You Filled a Buck­et Today by Car­ol McCloud
  • Last Stop on Mar­ket Street by Matt de la Pena
  • My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems
  • Those Shoes by Mari­beth Boelts

YA/Middle Grades Chap­ter Books:

  • The Mirac­u­lous Jour­ney of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Mis­fits by James Howe
  • Sahara Spe­cial by Esme Raji Codell
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
  • Won­der by R.J. Palacio

In addi­tion to read­ing books to and with kids to teach kind­ness, these pro­fes­sion­al books are well worth the invest­ment of time and money:

  • Beyond Nice: Nur­tur­ing Kind­ness with Young Chil­dren by Stu­art L. Stotts
  • Bul­ly­ing Hurts, Teach­ing Kind­ness through Read Alouds and Guid­ed Con­ver­sa­tions
    by Lester Laminack
  • Secret Kind­ness Agents: How Small Acts of Kind­ness Real­ly Can Change the World
    by Fer­i­al Pearson

Final­ly, if you are look­ing for ways to bring a kind­ness cam­paign to your class­room, con­sid­er these spe­cial events.


USBBY Reflections

by Nan­cy Bo Flood  Books can help read­ers heal. Sto­ries can cre­ate com­pas­sion. Every one needs to find “their sto­ry” in books. The Unit­ed States Board on Books for Young Peo­ple (USBBY) is part of The Inter­na­tion­al Board on Books for Young Peo­ple (IBBY), a world-wide orga­ni­za­tion that works to build bridges of under­stand­ing through chil­dren’s and young adult books.… more

Chris Van Dusen: Illustrating Leroy Ninker Saddles Up


Chris Van Dusen

Chris Van Dusen

Leroy Ninker first appeared in Mercy Watson Fights Crime as the criminal. Did you consciously change his appearance for Leroy Ninker Saddles Up to make him a more sympathetic character?

I’m not sure that I consciously changed his appearance. I tried to make him look like the same character. In the original series he was wearing a robber’s mask which gave him a slightly sinister look. Since he’s now a “reformed thief” I removed the mask which made him a warmer and more likeable character which is more fitting for the story.

Your palette for the Deckawoo Drive books has a retro feeling. What do you think decided you on working with the colors you use in those books and now Leroy Ninker Saddles Up?

The original Mercy Watson Series definitely did have a retro feel. The colors I used were similar to those that appeared in the picture books I grew up with – colors that were popular in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The new series has BW interior art but I ended up painting the pictures in the same method using gouache.

Cover Sketch

Sketch of a reject­ed cov­er idea for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up

When Leroy runs through the neighborhood to rescue Maybelline, you use a fluid line to indicate his rapid motion. For young readers who’d love to draw their own stories, how did you learn to convey action in this way?

Motion lines are a classic cartoon way of showing movement. I probably picked this up from my early interest in comic strips and animation.

How is illustrating a chapter book different from illustrating a picture book?

In a picture book there are fewer words, so the illustrations have to tell more of the story. Also, picture book illustrations are usually larger, often a full spread. In a chapter book, the illustrations support the text rather than tell the story.

What words of advice would you share to encourage young illustrators who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

 You can do it. But you have to keep drawing. Good drawing skills are the basis for any career as an illustrator, animator, cartoonist, painter, etc. 

interior sketch

A pre­lim­i­nary sketch
for the spread on pages 86 and 87.





Skinny Dip with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamilloDo you remember any book reports you wrote or gave while in elementary school?

No one has ever asked me this question before! Here is the truth: I don't remember doing one, single book report. Have I blocked the memories out? Or did I really not do any? I'm thinking it's the latter. Truly.

Describe your all-time favorite pair of pajamas.

Red flannel. Decorated with dogs. And Milk bones. Divine.

What was the best Halloween costume you've ever worn or seen?

I love the Bugs Bunny mask I wore when I was three. I can still smell the interior of that mask. I can still feel the power of *hiding* behind that mask.

Are you good at wrapping presents?

Ha ha ha. I am laughing. And I can hear my mother laughing from the great beyond. I inherited my inability to wrap presents from her. Present-wrapping always ends up with me in the middle of a great big snarl of wrapping paper and scotch tape. Imagine Bink wrapping a present and you get the right visual.

Do you like to cook for friends or meet them at a restaurant?

Still laughing. Cook for friends? Me? I like to go to *their* houses and eat *their* food. But I do take them out to restaurants to return the favor.

Which outdoor activity are you most likely to participate in: running; fishing; leaf raking; parade watching?

Parade watching. I love a parade. And it's all a parade.

When did you get your first library card, and from what library?

*Swoon* I got my first library card when was I seven. I got it from the Cooper Memorial Public Library.

Favorite bird?


 Which children’s book do you wish you’d read as a child?

Matilda. It wasn't in our school library or the public library. Strange, huh?


Leroy Ninker Saddles Up! Companion Booktalks

Let these help you get start­ed on the Book­storm™ books:

Actual SizeActu­al Size, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenkins

  • Ani­mal parts or whole ani­mals shown in actu­al size (a squid’s eye!)
  • Try to guess the ani­mal by look­ing at just one part
  • Ide­al for com­par­ing and contrasting

Bill PicketBill Pick­et: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cow­boy,
 writ­ten by Andrea Pinkney, illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Pinkney

  • True sto­ry of an African-Amer­i­can rodeo star
  • You won’t believe his trick for qui­et­ing bulls and calves
  • Biog­ra­phy of a true-life action superhero

Black Cowboys, Wild HorsesBlack Cow­boy, Wild Hors­es,
 writ­ten by Julius Lester, illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney

  • True sto­ry about one of the many African-Amer­i­can cowboys
  • Find all the cam­ou­flaged critters!
  • Hors­es galore!

Cowboy UpCow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo
, writ­ten by Nan­cy Bo Flood, pho­tographs by Jan Sonnemair

  • You’ve heard of buckin’ bron­cos — how about buckin’ sheep?
  • Pho­tos of chil­dren and teens of the Nava­jo Nation par­tic­i­pat­ing in all the events
  • Poet­ry, pho­tos, and prose make you feel part of the action

Cowgirl KateCow­girl Kate and Cocoa,
 writ­ten by Eri­ca Sil­ver­man, illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Lewin

  • Easy read­er with four stand-alone chapters
  • A girl with her very own horse
  • Kate and her con­trary horse get into all sorts of trouble

FriendsFriends: True Sto­ries of Extra­or­di­nary Ani­mal Friend­ships,
writ­ten by Cather­ine Thimmesh

  • Friend­ships between ani­mals of dif­fer­ent species — some are very unusu­al animals
  • What hap­pens to injured wild ani­mals? Learn about ani­mal reha­bil­i­ta­tion centers
  • Entic­ing, imme­di­ate photographs

Horse SongHorse Song: the Naadam of Mon­go­lia, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ted and Bet­sy Lewin

  • Based on the authors’ own vis­it to Mongolia
  • Young read­ers will love rid­ing into com­pe­ti­tion with 9 year-old jock­ey Tamir
  • Illus­tra­tions bring the Naadam fes­ti­val to life

In the Days of the VaquerosIn the Days of the Vaque­ros,
writ­ten by Rus­sell Freedman

  • Who were the first cow­boys in the Amer­i­c­as? How were they dif­fer­ent from the cow­boys in movies?
  • Find out why Cal­i­for­nia Vaque­ros would las­so and cap­ture griz­zly bears
  • Great mate­r­i­al for a report

Just the Right SizeJust the Right Size,
writ­ten by Nico­la Davies, illus­trat­ed by Neal Layton

  • Why can’t there be a real King Kong?
  • Why can geck­oes climb on ceil­ings and humans can’t?
  • Have fun with math (and the car­toon illus­tra­tions) to find the answers

Leroy NinkerLeroy Ninker Sad­dles Up
, writ­ten by Kate DiCamil­lo, illus­trat­ed by Chris Van Dusen

  • A scary storm, a search for a lost friend, a cel­e­bra­tion with friends — excit­ing action
  • Sil­ly char­ac­ters and their tongue-twisty, fun­ny dialogue
  • First book in a com­pan­ion series to the author’s Mer­cy Wat­son books — plen­ty more read­ing for eager readers

Name JarThe Name Jar
, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Yang­sook Choi

  • Class­room sto­ry about young Kore­an immi­grant Unhei’s dilem­ma: should she choose an Amer­i­can name?
  • Warm, sim­ple illus­tra­tions that evoke all the emo­tions and humor
  • Top­ic of “Your name” makes a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion and writ­ing prompt

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bar­bara Lehman.

  • What do you think about on a rainy day?
  • Min­gles a boy’s real and imag­ined world in a sto­ry with­out words
  • Calde­cott Hon­or author/illustrator


Ready Steady SpaghettiReady Steady Spaghet­ti, by Lucy Broadhurst

  • Cook­book with col­or­ful and engag­ing pho­tographs — wow factor
  • Uncom­pli­cat­ed recipes for a range of food – veg­e­tar­i­an, desserts, snacks, and more
  • Swamp Mud” looks delicious!

Star of Wild Horse CanyonStar of Wild Horse Canyon,
writ­ten by Clyde Robert Bul­la, illus­trat­ed by Grace Paull

  • Cap­tur­ing and tam­ing wild horses!
  • A mys­tery involv­ing a lost horse — can you solve it before Dan­ny does?
  • Why is the horse named Star?

, writ­ten by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer, illus­trat­ed by John Wallace

  • All the facts about this unseen weath­er ele­ment — in text just right for begin­ning readers
  • Part of a set of four, also includ­ing Rain, Snow, and Clouds—great for first sci­ence reports
  • And just where does the wind come from?



Horse Stories in Children’s Literature

Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up rides on the with­ers of a great many pre­vi­ous books. A time­line is only an at-a-glance his­tor­i­cal sur­vey, of course; still, we cre­at­ed this one to high­light some of the sem­i­nal books in a long his­to­ry of horse stories. 

Horse Story Timeline


Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid

Animal Shenanigans

Ani­mal Shenani­gans, Rob Rei­d’s lat­est resource book for teach­ers, par­ents, and librarians.

I am for­tu­nate to teach three sec­tions of children’s lit­er­a­ture each semes­ter to future ele­men­tary teach­ers, future spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­ers, and future librar­i­ans. It’s tru­ly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookol­o­gy folks to share those books and top­ics I teach to these bud­ding professionals.

I open each semes­ter by intro­duc­ing myself and read­ing my cur­rent favorite inter­ac­tive pic­ture book. The last few years, it has been Press Here by Hervé Tul­let and the stu­dents are delight­ed to know such a book like this exists. I then ask them to tell me what comes to mind when I say, “Children’s Books.” I write their respons­es on the board and…the same titles appear year after year. Titles from their school years: Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Mag­ic Tree­house, Har­ry Pot­ter, Dr. Seuss — the usu­al sus­pects. All good choic­es but no sur­pris­es and noth­ing recent­ly pub­lished. That’s my job then for the next 15 weeks: com­bine his­to­ry of children’s lit­er­a­ture with the best of the new­er stuff, so they can share those with kids down the road.

Next, we look at cur­rent trends in children’s pub­lish­ing: trends I pick up from Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, the Coöper­a­tive Children’s Book Cen­ter, the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, and my own obser­va­tions. We also look at the cur­rent NY Times best­seller lists for pic­ture books, mid­dle grade books, and series. I read a few of those best­selling pic­ture books to the class as well as selec­tions of the chap­ter books. (I read aloud children’s books to my col­lege stu­dents pret­ty much every class session.)

I con­trast what sells with what wins the numer­ous awards: quan­ti­ty vs. qual­i­ty (and luck­i­ly, the two go togeth­er with many titles) and how kids need to be exposed to all. Over the semes­ter, my stu­dents learn what the fol­low­ing awards are for, who are the most recent win­ners, and many of the notable past win­ners: New­bery (and I share my own expe­ri­ence being on that com­mit­tee), Calde­cott, Geisel, Coret­ta Scott King, Pura Bel­pré, Amer­i­can Indi­an Youth Lit­er­a­ture, Scott O’Dell, Sib­ert, Orbis Pic­tus, and the Schnei­der Fam­i­ly Award.

Sibk_wonder_140nce that last award orig­i­nat­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Eau Claire, where I teach, and because I have many spe­cial edu­ca­tion stu­dents, we put spe­cial empha­sis on this award that rec­og­nizes por­tray­als of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. As a class, we all read Won­der by R.J. Pala­cio (before that it was Rules by Cyn­thia Lord) and I will also be adding El Deafo by Cece Bell this upcom­ing year as a required read to rep­re­sent graph­ic nov­els (I have been using the first Baby­mouse and the first Lunch Lady as exam­ples of ele­men­tary school graph­ic novels).

The oth­er required read is Love That Dog, and I intro­duce the oth­er works of Sharon Creech and Wal­ter Dean Myers (who is a fic­tion­al­ized char­ac­ter of him­self in the book). We look at dozens of poet­ry books not writ­ten by Shel Sil­ver­stein (and I have some good Sil­ver­stein anec­dotes to share) and learn ways to make poet­ry fun for kids.

Out of My MindStu­dents pick an elec­tive chap­ter book from a list I pro­vide (which includes Roll of Thun­der Hear My Cry, Out of My Mind, Joey Pigza Swal­lowed the Key, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Cora­line, Tale of Des­pereaux, Princess Acad­e­my, Eli­jah of Bux­ton, and sev­er­al more) and they cre­ate a lit­er­a­ture activ­i­ty guide to go with their novel.

Stu­dents draw the name of a children’s illus­tra­tor and put togeth­er a Pow­er­Point to share with the class what they learned about the var­i­ous artis­tic ele­ments present in the pic­ture books.

We also look at the time­line of diver­si­ty in children’s lit­er­a­ture, tra­di­tion­al folk­lore from around the world, fan­ta­sy and sci­ence fic­tion, con­tro­ver­sial books, infor­ma­tion­al books and biogra­phies, easy read­ers and bridge books, real­is­tic fic­tion, his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, and Min­neso­ta and Wis­con­sin book cre­ators (since most of my stu­dents are from these two states and we have so many tal­ent­ed, pub­lished, award-win­ning authors and illus­tra­tors here).

Each stu­dent also has to tell an oral sto­ry to the class based on a folk­tale. They are sent to the 398 sec­tion of the library to look through both the pic­ture book edi­tions and antholo­gies of folk­tales, learn one, and share it with­out notes.

We fin­ish the semes­ter with com­pet­i­tive rounds of Kid­die Lit Jeop­ardy, they fill out their stu­dent eval­u­a­tions that all read “This was a lot of work!” and I send them off to explore the remain­ing 99% of the won­der­ful children’s books we did­n’t have time to cov­er in class.


Animal Shenanigans

Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid I am for­tu­nate to teach three sec­tions of children’s lit­er­a­ture each semes­ter to future ele­men­tary teach­ers, future spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­ers, and future librar­i­ans. It’s tru­ly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookol­o­gy folks to share those books and top­ics I teach to these bud­ding professionals. I open each semes­ter by intro­duc­ing myself and read­ing my cur­rent favorite inter­ac­tive pic­ture book.… more